This Veterans Day, I was finally able to experience for the first time the 38th Annual Hawaii International Film Festival presented by Halekulani. I had high hopes to experience three different films in one day, and this journey began with the film I Used to be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story directed by Jessica Leski.
This film successfully promised to be a tale which explores the lives of avid fangirls with no sense of mockery or judgement, but rather treating boyband culture as the intergenerational and international phenomenon it is.
The film features four young women who resemble four different boyband generations, with the oldest being a 66 year old fan of the Beatles, and the youngest being a 16 year old who found internet fame for her love of One Direction.
Even though the documentary attempts to normalize boyband culture as a legitimate pop culture phenomenon which crosses age, nation, and generation, the film still holds onto its aesthetic roots with a very MTV-esque aesthetic. Visual details are complete with cutesy heart doodles and scrapbook components atop a notebook paper base.
For a documentary of such a small production scale, the audio is notably pristine. On the other hand, the imagery often feels lackluster and repetative, with the film focusing on the women completing menial tasks throughout the home instead of imagery as vibrant and energetic as the all-important boybands.
The film explores what drew each of the women to their respective boybands and how their love shaped their lives later on. While some women were impacted by the music, some were focused on the boys themselves. Later in life, this love of boybands inspired passion for music, generated an outlet of emotion, and paved the road for self-discovery.
My favorite part of this film is when Dara, a 33-year old fangirl of the boyband Take That, teaches the audience a crash course on Boyband Theory. This thoughtful analysis of boyband trends broke down the types of members found in each boyband, the aestheics, the subject matter of the music, and the no-brothers rule (which I wholeheartedly disagree with on behalf of Nick, Kevin and Joe). I found this sequence to be insightful and refreshing from the rest of the film’s personal narrative style, and felt further exploring this discipline of boyband studies to be a missed opportunity.
In fact, there were a number of missed opportunities in this film. Primarily, the docu
mentary felt narrow minded. The filmhardly, if ever, interviewed anyone on the subject other than the our main subjects. Boyband members, managers and fangirl parents would’ve made entertaining and thought-provoking sources to get an all-encompassing view on the impact of boyband culture at the scale the film made it out to be.
The film was created in documentary style, but lacked the comprehensiveness of sources to do so effectively. While the film could have taken more of a reality-TV style and walked through the lives of the fangirls, they also seriously lacked on showing in-the-moment fangirl moments. The film showed women reflecting on their fangirl pasts, not much of fangirling in the process, which was truly a disappointment and missed opportunity for quality entertainment.
I also failed to grasp the distinction of boyband culture versus general pop culture frenzy. While fanbases for bands such as the Beatles or One Direction are notoriously intense, I don’t see a huge difference between fanbases for solo artists of the same genre like Taylor Swift or even Justin Bieber. I really do wish the film would have incorporated analysis of boyband management formulas and how boybands fit into the scheme of pop culture as a whole instead of relying solely on personal narrative.
This film ultimately felt as though it lasted forever due to the lack of progression in the story. The subjects talked for hours about different aspects of their lives and boyband obsessions without any cohesive climax or takeaway other than that boybands had a positive and meaningful influence on these women’s lives.
I walked out of the theater having seen some interesting insights on how widespread and impactful the boyband phenomenon could be, but without any real visual, audio, or moral impressions to remember for much longer.